Does swish­ing a tail keep the flies away?

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Our Wild World - Stu­art Black­man

ABit­ing in­sects are a pest to hu­mans and an­i­mals alike – a do­mes­tic cow can lose up to a third of a litre of blood a day to these tiny as­sailants. Like many other large mam­mals, cows at­tempt to limit the dam­age by swish­ing their tails at the at­tack­ers.

Un­til re­cently, it wasn’t en­tirely clear ex­actly how this strategy helps. Af­ter all, few tails are long enough to ad­min­is­ter

full-body cov­er­age. But re­cent re­search on species in­clud­ing ze­bras, gi­raffes, ele­phants and horses has re­vealed that a swish­ing tail func­tions as a fan rather than a swat, gen­er­at­ing a breeze that is about as fast as the flight-speed of a mos­quito. That’s enough to pre­vent about 50 per cent of bit­ing in­sects from land­ing and sink­ing in those mouth­parts.

If bitey bugs are a nui­sance, flap, don't swat.

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